In all of the things I’ve read about Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, one thing has astonished me more than any other. Not the fact that he used an assault rifle on six year olds, horrifying as that is, or that he played violent video games – par for the course – or even the revelation that the guns belonged to his survivalist mother, not him.
No, what astonished me most was this: he didn’t have a Facebook page – let alone a Twitter account, or a YouTube channel, or any of the channels through which we broadcast our lives and our opinions to the world.
In a world where almost everyone wants to be famous, Adam Lanza was invisible.
“His online footprint was minimal” as the BBC notes. There isn’t even a photo of him in his high school yearbook – he was apparently “camera shy”.
Revelations about the family are emerging as the media clamour to find an explanation for the unimaginably awful. How Nancy Lanza liked craft beers and parlour games and never allowed anyone into her house. How she was a survivalist who taught her sons to shoot. But about the young man who put four bullets into her head on the morning of December 14 2012, there is almost nothing.
Everything we know about Adam Lanza is from the brief observations of others, not the man (really still a boy) himself.
Consider, for a moment, how strange that is. Our global, connected culture now is orientated toward the constant visibility, both of our projected images and our inner selves. Those of us on Twitter can point to a track record of thousands of 140-character records of our thoughts and feelings at any given time. Few of us are a mystery to anyone; our lives are open books through which anyone can page in real time.
In the midst of all of this narcissistic noise, we’ve become accustomed to killers who want to tell the world why they kill. Think about the Columbine shooters: Eric Harris’s website, the diaries they kept and the videos they made in the basement.
Or the Virginia Tech shooter who sent a rant-filled DVD to NBC .
Or Anders Breivik, who besides his rambling 1,500 page manifesto was very active on right wing websites.
These were killers who wanted, not just to shock and horrify the world, but to tell us why. But Adam Lanza gave nothing away.
In the coming days and weeks, we will no doubt learn more. According to this report, police are trying to repair a shattered hard drive found in Lanza’s bedroom. Perhaps it will contain clues – but even if it does, the point is that Adam Lanza didn’t choose to share anything with us.
No angst-filled status updates, no rant-filled YouTube videos, no publicly visible warnings at all. For all his love of tech geekery, he seems to be from another era, even as the terrible crime he committed seems so sickeningly contemporary. This unreachable, inscrutable young man will generate millions of tweets without ever having sent one himself.
If Adam Lanza is a reminder of anything, it is that, even now, when it is so very easy to tell the world what goes on in our heads, some people choose to keep their dark thoughts to themselves. And that is what is truly frightening.
Image: Sarah Britten Art.